Friday, July 8, 2011

STATE OF GEORGIA: When Bad Things Happen To Good People

I dread the kind of search results this next sentence or so is going to produce for my blog, but I'll write it anyway.  Here's my guess of the traditional career arc of a Disney child star.  First, the star does a show on Disney Channel, and when the star becomes too old, the star gets moved to a show on ABC Family, and if the star is enough of a success with the ABC Family show, the star then moves to Touchstone Pictures, and finally, when the "Team Disney" career ultimately ends, the star probably moves to porn.  Disney Channel hasn't really been around long enough to prove whether this ultimately becomes true, but a few of the gigantic stars of Disney yesterday have started to move into their mid 20's, which means it's time to leave the Mickey Mouse Club behind.

Raven-Symoné is probably the oldest of the Disney child stars, and this blog post is going to be about her new show, State of Georgia (ABC Family, Wednesdays 8:30pm EDT).  There's somewhere around a zero chance I ever would have checked this show out, had it not been for her being on it.  You see, I love Raven, I think she is one of this country's great comedic treasures.  She has been wowing me with her comedic chops since she was probably about 4 years old.  I remember being blown away by some of her early performances on The Cosby Show, and continued watching her grow up through Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, That's So Raven, and finally getting to see her now playing an adult in State of Georgia.  Raven is one of the most talented comedic actors I have ever seen, and you will often get to see her make dozens of hilarious facial expressions in every show she's in.

Unfortunately, no matter how great Raven is an actress (even though she's playing this part much more hammy than she usually does), she has nearly an impossible time saving this rather bad sitcom.  If you actually read my piece about the keys to making a great TV show (I'm sure you didn't), you would know that I said that great casting can make a bad show watchable.  State of Georgia is a perfect example of that.  Sitcoms are supposed to be a laugh a minute, or hilarious observationally or situationally.  If a sitcom isn't a constant "one-liner" show, then the situations the characters are placed in are supposed to be funny.  Not every sitcom is laugh out loud funny, but the goal of every sitcom is to make you laugh frequently, or shock you into laughter with the misunderstanding of the particular situation a character is in, at the moment.

There are numerous problems with State of Georgia, and all I can do is hope these problems get ironed out.  It's an extremely well cast show, and if the writing were better, this show could actually be good.  When I watched this show last night, there were two episodes we had DVR'd.  The first was presumably the "Pilot", but it didn't resemble any pilot I have ever seen for any TV show, much less a sitcom.  The audience was just thrown into their lives with literally no explanation of who the characters are.  I would have thought this episode was the second or third of the series, but it certainly appeared to be the Pilot.  Below, I'll give a brief break down of the main characters on the show, talk about what I perceive to be the problems, and even a little bit about what the strengths are of the show (there are a few).

The Characters:

Georgia Chamberlin (Raven-Symoné)
Jo (Majandra Delfino)
Honey (Loretta Devine)

Georgia Chamberlin, as far as the viewer is led to believe, comes from a well off background from some state in the South.  Let's say Georgia, just for s's and g's.  Georgia loves herself some her.  She is an extremely confident person, who is self-centered, and borders on being an egomaniac.  The basic premise of the show, as far as the viewer is led to believe, is that Georgia is an aspiring actress.  She is so bold, personality-wise, that at her first audition, she tells the rest of the people there how this day will go down as so special, knowing that they got the chance to "remember when" they met Georgia.  We also find that Georgia is a very hypersexual, yet picky, person, as is evidenced by the second episode.

Jo is Georgia's best friend, who evidently came to New York with Georgia to help her follow her dreams.  Jo is extremely smart on the inside, but basically appears to lack common sense on the outside.  She is very good at physics, which is very against the type she plays on the screen.  She's basically the goofy sidekick seen in nearly every type of "buddy" sitcom.  The character, in many ways, is also not at all unlike the Chelsea character from That's So Raven.

Honey is Georgia's Aunt.  The viewer is led to believe Georgia and Jo live with her.  Honey is just brought in for the "formative" moments.  Whenever a problem is needed to be solved, she will be there.  Of course, her way of helping is to make them figure out what to do based on the fake deep questions she asks.  Honey is also apparently a hypersexual person.  This evidently runs in the family.

Let's now talk a little about the problems this show has.  The most glaring one is that the basic premise is laughable.  The idea that Raven-Symoné is an aspiring actress is just ludicrous.  This person has been in the limelight for over 20 years, and it's hard for me to believe she's an aspiring actress, since she's already a natural actress, that we've been watching forever.  Now, if the writers had made her super goofy, awkward, and all kinds of other things that lend to an eventual transformation, that would have been fine.  Instead, it's just weird seeing Raven attempting to be an actress, when we already know how her story turned out. 

When doing a show like this, it's pretty important to get the characters into funny situations, where the comedy can come to the front.  So far, Raven's comedic chops have barely been on display.  Her reactions to certain situations are funny, but none of that is in the script.  The best comedic scenes have been Jo's, and the best lines have been in Honey's scenes.  When your star is a superstar in the comedy genre, you gotta give her funny stuff to do or say, even if it's unintentionally funny.  This just doesn't happen enough.  So far, the show's just not very funny, and the stories aren't interesting, at all.

The show is also very sexed up.  This is very strange for an ABC Family show, I would think.  In nearly every scene, a character is doing something seductive or saying something raunchy.  It's like if adults had grown up to still approach romance like teenagers.  A lot of it seems strange and forced.

The biggest strength of the show is the casting.  If this show had different people in it, it would probably be easily recognized as a flaming pile of poo poo.  Instead, there is just enough there in the casting to make you want to see if the material can get better.  Loretta Devine steals practically every scene she's in, with her canned ham performance.  However, her comedic timing is priceless, and she has been the source of my loudest laughs from the show.  Her best line in the series, so far, was regarding Tavis Smiley.  She has many other similarly themed lines, throughout the show, as well.  The physics geeks are also fairly entertaining, and most of the best comedy in the show is coming from these scenes.  The acting performances, in the show, overall, are solid, but the scenes written for them are over the top stupid.

I thought I would be writing about the strengths of the show, but yeah, that's it, casting and performances.  The writing isn't funny, the scenes aren't believable, and the situations aren't often funny enough.  The show was meant to be about an aspiring actress's struggles along the way to stardom, with her best friend going along for the ride.  Yet, the second episode didn't even really make mention of the acting thing.  There's a strong possibility this will just become a buddy comedy, and the acting thing will go away.  However, if this show doesn't get its act together soon, it will be gone quickly.  This post looks like it might have ended up as much a mess as this TV show.  Thanks for reading.

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